Encouraging students to follow their true interests

By Walter M. Kimbrough, Special Contributor…

The magazine industry is interesting to me, especially with regard to rankings. It seems these days they attempt to capitalize on rankings that purport to provide factual data that the consumer desires. The strategy is smart to a degree, as America has a love affair with rankings, but only certain ones. We highly debate the BCS football rankings every year while never mentioning how our nation continues its slide in the world in terms of educating our children. Indeed, our priorities are in the wrong place.

Walter Kimbrough, president of UMC-affiliated Dillard University. UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE FILE PHOTO

Our misplaced priorities revealed themselves in a recent ranking by Kiplinger’s of the “worst majors for your career.” Using a set of metrics which they determined, 10 majors were identified that would damage your career, generate low pay and may have higher levels of unemployment. I have no qualms with this methodology because this is a magazine that focuses on personal finance and business forecasting.

There was little surprise using these metrics that majors such as philosophy and religion, English, film and fine arts made the list. The humanities, fields which speak to the human condition, are viewed as less valuable because they don’t generate enough money. But I ask, “Enough money for what?”

For the past few years the political leaders have debated a deficit that has grown under both parties. This is because we have a consume-at-all-costs culture which causes us to spend recklessly, using our resources in an attempt to somehow buy happiness. And the sad fact is that people aren’t any happier even with all of the material goods they possess.

Back in March of 2003, the editors of Fast Company magazine had it right when they wrote: “We are better paid, better fed, and better educated than ever. Yet the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has tripled, and depression has soared in the past 30 years. The conclusion is inescapable: Our lifestyles are packed with more stuff, but we lead emptier lives. We’re consuming more but enjoying it less.”

True profit

As president of a United Methodist university, I value all fields of study that students select. My overall goal is for them to find something that they love doing, that they would do for free, and then find a way to be paid for that work. If they love their work, they will lead fulfilling lives.

Yes, in this hyper-consumer culture some will have to live a lifestyle different than the one the advertisers in Kiplinger’s want them to purchase. If they fulfill their purpose, their calling, maybe we can build communities where these domestic terroristic acts that we’ve seen recently will not occur. James Holmes was in a neuroscience program, definitely a lucrative field. But he had no peace, no connection to humanity, and we witnessed the carnage that he created in the Aurora shootings.

We have all heard the Scripture from Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” A more modern translation simply reads “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” What good is it for young women and men to simply pursue careers to make the most money possible, only to find themselves alone, afraid and angry? That’s what we are seeing today over and over again.

I can appreciate what Kiplinger’s does as it meets the wants of its audience. But this nation at this moment needs something different. We need people who are fulfilled in their careers so they can live fulfilled and meaningful lives. Humanities are valuable to that end.

This recent string of tragedies continues to serve as a lesson that we attempt to ignore. I pray that my students find their purpose and live it to the fullest.

I am sure Kiplinger’s would agree. For all of our sakes.

Dr. Kimbrough is the seventh president of Dillard University in New Orleans. Known as the Hip Hop president, he is one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. Before going to Dillard, he served as president of UMC-affiliated Philander Smith College in Arkansas.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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